By Jennifer Coates, DVM
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year in the United States, there are millions of cases of the common cold. The CDC states that adults have an average of 2-3 colds per year, and children have even more. So, with human colds being so common, it’s natural to wonder whether our dogs can catch colds too.
What is a Cold?
First some background about colds in people.
Many different viruses can cause the common cold, but rhinoviruses are the most common…. Other viruses that can cause colds include respiratory syncytial virus, human parainfluenza viruses, and human metapneumovirus.
Symptoms usually include sore throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, headaches and body aches.*
Do Dogs Get Colds?
Determining if dogs get colds depends on whether we focus on the causes or symptoms of the illness.
The viruses that cause colds in people are generally species-specific. Except perhaps under the rarest of circumstances (for example with large doses of certain types of parainfluenza), the viruses that make people sick with a cold are incapable of causing illness in dogs. So if you’re wondering “can dogs get sick from humans,” the answer is almost always “no,” at least with regards to cold viruses. On the other hand, reports of humans and dogs sharing infection with some types of influenza viruses (the cause of more serious infection we call “the flu”) have recently been published. Previously, we did not think dogs could come down with human flu, so keep in mind that things do change in the world of viruses. Practicing common sense hygiene like washing your hands frequently when either your or your dog is sick is always a good idea.
But now let’s look at the “Do dogs get colds?” question for the point of view of the symptoms that develop. Many viruses and even a few bacterial species that do infect dogs (e.g., canine adenovirus type 2, canine respiratory coronavirus, canine parainfluenza virus, and Bordetella bronchiseptica) cause clinical signs in dogs that are almost indistinguishable from those seen in people who are suffering from colds. Dog cold symptoms like sneezing, congestion, watery eyes, coughing, runny nose, and just feeling “off” are quite common, it’s just that different infectious agents are generally involved when a dog rather than a person gets sick.
Cold Remedies for Dogs
When dogs look like they have a cold, we need to assess just how bad they feel. If a dog is still eating and drinking and wants to be relatively active, it is reasonable to try symptomatic care and home remedies. Encourage your dog to rest, drink, and eat so his immune system has the resources to fight off the infection. Wipe your dog’s eyes and nose with a warm, damp cloth to keep him comfortable. Breathing humidified air can also ease dog congestion, so why not keep your dog in the bathroom with you while you take a long, hot shower. But do not give your dog human over-the-counter cold remedies without first consulting with your veterinarian. Many are potentially quite dangerous when given to dogs.
If at any time your dog is not eating and drinking well, appears uncomfortable, has difficulty breathing, or fails to return to normal within a week or two, it is time to make an appointment with your veterinarian. He or she can rule out other causes of your dog’s congestion, sneezing, coughing, etc. These might include pneumonia, nasal foreign bodies, inhaled irritants or allergens, tumors, nasal mites, fungal infections, and more. If your veterinarian does diagnose your dog with the equivalent of a cold, he or she might prescribe antibiotics (only if a bacterial cause is likely), cough suppressants, decongestants, or anti-inflammatories to make your dog feel better and hopefully speed his recovery.
Finally, dogs who are congested, sneezing, and coughing are often contagious to other dogs. Always isolate a sick dog to help prevent the spread of disease.
Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Accessed 10/20/2016